Adam Scovell’s debut novel is a combination of classic ghost story and the British weird. An eerie tale about life and death, the secrets and memories we hide and the relationships we make and break. Mothlight is the story of Phyllis Ewans, told by her friend, carer and a fellow moth researcher, Thomas. It’s uncanny, melancholic and skilfully-written a debut.
Reading Mothlight made me think of two other British novels: A.S. Byatt’s Possession: A Romance and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. Thomas and Phyllis are both academics, researches in Lepidoptera who dedicate their lives to studying moths. After Phyllis’s death, it’s Thomas who is left with her belongings and secrets. Like Arthur Kipps while going through Alice Drablow’s papers, Thomas too stays in the dead woman’s house and learns that there’s a mystery surrounding her. He comes across more questions than answers.
‘A moth, after all,’ she would suggest, ‘does not, through fits of nostalgia, visit its discarded cocoon after it has flown.’
As he remembers the first time he met Phyllis as a child (then they were reacquainted later in life) and looks through documents and books in the old lady’s house, Thomas starts seeing and feeling Phyllis Ewans herself. In his mania, he hears the constant fluttering of moths and a haunting presence that doesn’t leave his side. As he grows more preoccupied with Phyllis’s life and death, he loses grip of his own. Thomas becomes possessed by her memories and the line between the two blurs. He admits to himself that he’s suffering from an “illness of Phyllis Ewans”.
Scovell perfectly captures and describes his character’s obsession so that as Thomas spirals into it, the reader falls in with him. Scovell writes with intelligence, passion and sensitivity. The characters feel real, and descriptions of certain places in England and Wales make the setting eerily familiar. What’s more, the black and white photographs, postcards and handwritten notes accompanying the story only add up to its overall haunting. Mothlight is a small but impactful novel and I can’t wait to see what Adam Scovell does next.
Mothlight is published by Influx Press on 7 February.